Boz Scaggs Interview - San Francisco Chronicle
[Joel Selvin - San Francisco Chronicle - April 8, 1994]
For six months last year, the empty halls of the abandoned KQED television studios rang with the clicks and whirrs of synthesizers and the occasional twang of guitars. Boz Scaggs and his new musical partner, Ricky Fataar, were picking away like two lonely prospectors, starting early in the morning six days a week and often working late into the night, painstakingly piecing together the first new Scaggs album in six years.
When the building was sold, they simply packed up all the gear in their makeshift recording studio and moved camp. They settled in at another empty TV studio here and spent the rest of the year finishing the project.
Next month, Scaggs will leave town for his first real tour in 14 years in support of "Some Change," his first album for Virgin Records.
"I've fallen in love with my music all over again," Scaggs said. "When I stopped active touring, I never had a song in my head. I never played guitar. I'd gotten away from that thing that first started me in this. Now I can't wait to get my hands on an instrument. I can't walk by a piano or guitar without feeling their magnetism. I can't get melodies out of my head."
Since finishing the record, Scaggs has taken a long-term lease on a cozy brick building tucked away in a South-of-Market alley, not far from Slim's, the nightclub he co-owns with Huey Lewis and the News manager Bob Brown and other investors. He stocked the place with recording gear left over from the album sessions and shows up daily, like a shopkeeper, to work on his music. Boz Scaggs is back in business.
"I've never been a workaday professional," Scaggs said. "I've followed this muse and it's sustained me for a long time."
Indeed, prior to the new album, Scaggs had recorded just two albums in the past 17 years. Despite occasional appearances jamming the blues at Slim's and local charity events, a few lucrative engagements at Lake Tahoe casinos and biannual tours of Japan, where he still sells prodigious amounts of records, Scaggs has been lying low. He has not made his presence felt on the concert scene since the high times after "Silk Degrees," the 1976 smash that made Scaggs a household name and set the tone for much of the adult rock of the era.
The new album will come as a surprise to anyone expecting a replay of the high-gloss production and smooth edges of his best-known work. The instrumentation is spare, elegantly understated, and his fluid tenor rests on top, unvarnished and unprocessed, dead in the center of the sound. It is primarily a vocalist's record.
"That was the objective," he said, "to keep the album as unaffected as we could. I made this string of L.A. albums, using all the great sessions players and polish high production can offer. This time, I decided to write it myself as a stage for my voice - everything, the writing, the settings, the songs."
Also for once, Scaggs came to the project with a satchel of completed songs. In the past, it was his practice to finish songs in the studio, often the night before recording the lyrics. But since his deal with Columbia Records expired and he was seeking an alliance with a new record company, he wanted to have some finished pieces to show around.
"When I changed labels, people wanted to hear some stuff," he said. "Couldn't get by on my good looks no more."
While his new label, Virgin Records, at first insisted on a strong producer to supervise the project, Scaggs checked out a few of the industry's big names - including Bernard Edwards of Chic - but nobody seemed quite right. About the same time, Joe Wissert, who produced "Silk Degrees" and moved to Australia several years ago, hooked up Scaggs with Fataar.
Best known as a session drummer with the Beach Boys and, more recently, Bonnie Raitt, Fataar is a South African who came to this country as a member of the Flame, the only other group to record for the Beach Boys' Brother label. He also appeared in the Beatles spoof "The Rutles" as Stig O'Hara.
Fataar had a considerable reputation as a producer in Australia but he relocated to San Francisco, and he and Scaggs began collaborating.
"By the time Ricky and I got together, I had accumulated a fair amount of stuff and I was looking for a collaborator," Scaggs said. "I started politicking with Virgin to let Ricky and I do it."
During an appearance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fair a couple of years ago, Scaggs visited the home studio of producer Daniel Lanois, who has worked with such acts as U2, Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan and the Neville Brothers. Scaggs began to think about recording in something more comfortable than the often-sterile surroundings of Hollywood recording studios.
The duo set up shop in the vacant KQED studios and recorded the first eight songs with a full band, including such notable musicians as bassist Hutch Hutchinson, Fataar's partner in the Raitt rhythm section; guitarist Fred Tackett of Little Feat; and the inimitable Booker T. Jones on organ. Not satisfied with the results, Scaggs and Fataar reverted to working alone, bringing in the occasional bassist, but otherwise performing all the parts themselves.
For the first time in 20 years, Scaggs played a lot of guitar on the record, some stunning leads that serve as a fresh reminder of his potent skills on the instrument.
His most recent album, "Other Roads," was hailed as a major comeback before its 1988 release. But the comeback failed to materialize. "It came and went," Scaggs said. "It was an awkward experience."
Reserved, often even guarded, Scaggs is a private man who shields his personal life from public scrutiny. He has spent a lot of time during his lengthy hiatus raising his two sons from a former marriage, Oscar and Austin, now 15 and 16 years old, respectively. "I can carpool with the best of them," he allowed. He remarried in 1992 and lives in the city.
He admitted he would have to "wait and see" if his audience still exits after such a long absence from performing. He feels a little remote from the contemporary music scene, despite living with teenagers whose tastes run to the urban and the alternative.
"Me, I'm just waiting for my next Van Morrison album," he said. "There's not much out there that really connects with me."
He also refused to predict how radio and MTV would accept his surprising new album. "I don't know," he said. "We'll see. It's important in some respects. In other respects, it's just more songs and another voice out there."